The Niagara Escarpment is, along with the Great Lakes, borrowed landscape for me. It’s the backdrop for a fair amount of the canonical Canadian Literature (Canlit, as those who work on it call it when we’re feeling self-deprecatory) that I’ve spent the last several years professionally immersed in–and at least a decade before that immersed for more personal reasons.
Growing up outside of Canada, it was easy for me to blame every bad thing that happened to me–every instance of being teased at school, of not quite fitting in–on being out of place. I developed an intense relationship with the imaginary land to the north where life was perfect, and there were people just like me waiting to welcome me home. Of course, a brief trip back to stay with a friend–including a week in school with them–showed me how far behind I’d fallen in French, and I realised that fitting in as though I’d never left might be a bit more of a challenge than I’d expected. So I started to study. I read novels to remind myself how people talked, what the landscape looked like, what bits of history people remembered…. (my father still tells me he’s amazed at how much I know about the past.)
The only problem was that I, born in Montreal and raised in Winnipeg, wasn’t really reading much about landscape I recognised. Most of the books that got distribution as far south as I was were written by Ontario authors (well, and L. M. Montgomery, of course–though even she lived in Ontario for most of the years she was churning out books about Prince Edward Island), and the landscape they described was as deeply unfamiliar to me as the one I moved through every day. But I absorbed it, still, well enough that years later I could ride the bus from Toronto to Ottawa and look out the window with the sense of having finally come home.